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‘American-style’ Harness Racing to return to Co Armagh as new season kicks off

Fixtures can be found online, with primary fixtures usually kicking off at 2pm on Sunday afternoons

Harness Racing enthusiasts from across the UK and Ireland are set to make the journey to Co Armagh in the coming weeks to kick off the new season.

We’ve all heard of popular equestrian sports such as Show Jumping and Thoroughbred Racing, but Harness Racing is no less of an exciting sport for those in the know.

It involves horses pulling sulkys (or carts) at speeds of up to 35mph around a sand-based surface on a half-mile oval. The rules stipulate that horses must remain in a trotting or pacing gait and cannot break into a gallop.

Another thing that many don’t know is that the sport has one of its biggest stages in the UK right here in Co Armagh!

Annaghmore Raceway, located on the Derrycoose Road, just 1.5 miles from Peatlands Park, is one of the venues that hosts the sport, organised by the Irish Harness Racing Association, being the only hard-track racing surface on the island of Ireland.

Qualifying days are currently underway, with the season’s opening race date set to take place on Sunday, April 28, with the season running right through to the end of October.

The winter months are usually used to give the racehorses a well-earned break and allow the trainers time to develop their young horses for the following year.

Each horse must qualify before being permitted to race, where they must stay in gait and complete two laps, totalling one mile, in less than a pre-set time.

Depending on the class of each course, they will take part in different series, such as elimination and heat races.

Fixtures can be found online, with primary fixtures usually kicking off at 2pm on Sunday afternoons.

Simon Duggan, of the Irish Harness Racing Association, is encouraging families to visit, saying Harness Racing is a great family activity for Sunday afternoons.

“A lot of the locals live up the road and don’t even know it’s on,” he said. “On Sunday afternoons you’re usually trying to find something to do and this is an alternative.”

He added: “It’s a really enjoyable family day out, it’s something different that allows you to get up close to the horses, enjoy a beverage and join in the fantastic thrilling atmosphere. Pony races are organised throughout the year for the kids and there are bookmakers on course if you fancy a flutter.”

You can view the full list of 2024 fixtures at the Irish Harness Racing Association website.

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